Scotland could benefit from solar power boom, say industry chiefs

Ministers have been urged to help the 'rapidly growing' sector by removing barriers to new solar developments.

Scotland could benefit from solar power boom, say industry chiefs iStock
There have been calls for 'modest changes' to be made to planning policy.

A “solar boom” could see the amount of energy Scotland gets from the sun overtake that generated by hydropower, industry leaders have said.

Solar Energy Scotland made the claim as it urged ministers to help the “rapidly growing” sector by removing barriers to new solar developments.

Ahead of the consultation on Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) closing on Thursday, chairman Thomas McMillan said projects which could provide up to six gigawatts of electricity could be up and running by the end of this decade.

But he said for this to happen there needs to be “modest changes” to planning policy.

Proposed developments capable of producing some 687 megawatts (MW) of electricity are already in the planning system, the organisation revealed, with projects with a further 1,388 MW of capacity at other stages of development.

If all these are approved and go ahead, existing capacity means that Scotland could benefit from more than 2.5 GW of solar capacity, Solar Energy Scotland said – more than the capacity of Scotland’s hydropower plants.

McMillan said: “With the right policy environment, Scotland’s rapidly-growing solar sector has the potential to help meet so many of the Scottish Government’s objectives, not just decarbonisation.

“The intense pressure on energy bills cannot be tackled as long as we remain so dependent on gas, and security of supply is now rightly even higher on everyone’s agenda.”

He continued: “We cannot afford to delay. It is entirely possible for our industry to add four to six gigawatts of solar projects across Scotland by 2030, but to get there we will need ministers to recognise that potential, and to make these modest changes to planning policy.”

Josh King, vice-chair of Solar Energy Scotland and director of Moray-based manufacturer and installer AES Solar, said: “It’s entirely right that Scottish Ministers have set 2030 ambitions now for both onshore and offshore wind power.

“That will help shape increased grid capacity across the country over the next eight years.

“It’s now time to do the same for solar power.”

King said: “Over the last 10 years, the cost of going solar has fallen more sharply than any other form of power generation. It is now cheaper than any fossil fuel generation system, and competitive with onshore wind.

“Solar does not need subsidy to be economic. We just need to be able to build sensible projects without disproportionate barriers being put in our way.

“A solar boom of the sort we believe is possible will also bring substantial job opportunities, not just in installation and maintenance, but across a wide range of supporting roles. I’m confident that ministers will see the need to let us get to work.”